SUMMIT, NJ—Second Ward Councilman Richard J. Madden was unanimously elected to a second consecutive term as president of the Summit Common Council on Thursday as the governing body re-organized for 2013.
Madden also was sworn in to another three-year term to represent his ward, while Albert Dill, Jr. took his oath to represent the First Ward for three years. He previously served on the council from 1987 through 1998.
Members of the governing body also elected First Ward Councilman Robert Rubino as president pro tem. Rubino will head the council in Madden’s absence and will serve as acting mayor in the absence of Mayor Ellen Dickson.
In addition, Nuris Portuondo, who concluded her first term on the governing body last year and decided not to seek reelection, was presented her council chair by Dickson and Madden.
In her State of the City address Dickson cited the vitality of the city and its continuing progress amid a number of challenges, including surviving Superstorm Sandy in November.
Among signs of Summit’s economic well-being she noted Merck & Co., Inc.’s decision to relocate its global headquarters to Summit and the location of Celgene in the Hilltop City, making it the home of two Fortune 500 companies that are “leaders in the pharmaceutical industry and a major source of employment in New Jersey.”
She also pointed to the completion of the One Deforest complex on the site of the old Summit Medical Group building and its occupancy with such companies as McKinsey and Bank of America—Merrill Lynch.
The mayor called the challenge faced by the community during Hurricane Sandy “a harsh test.”
“Much of Summit lost power for the third time in 18 months," Dickson said. "For many it was more than just an inconvenience and a source of stress, as it caused destruction and for some, physical hardship. Despite all the problems Hurricane Sandy caused, the vast majority of people put their troubles aside and thought about other people first. When they could they provided shelter, food, money, or a helping hand. The effort came from many citizens and also our local charities, religious institutions and many of the people working for the City of Summit. Regardless of the organization, that helping hand was provided by many citizens who just wanted to help. The strong sense of community we enjoy in Summit was especially strong during Hurricane Sandy. It is important to remember how so many helped and to celebrate their efforts, to reinforce the strong sense of community support that Summit enjoys, and in so doing provide a reminder that we are each other’s keeper. I thank all citizens for their efforts and patience throughout that ordeal.”
To help explain the source of much of the city’s problems, Dickson quoted former New York Governor George Pataki’s article in The Wall Street Journal, “Superstorm Sandy exposed perhaps the greatest flaw underpinning the American way of life: insecure and unreliable electric infrastructure. Under the stress of a major storm these systems have proven inadequate in responding and recovering.”
The mayor said in a recovery from such a storm, single-family homes in heavily-treed suburbs will take a back seat to restoration in larger cities, critical care facilities, public safety, water and sewage treatment.
She added she has contacted Jersey Central Power & Light Co. about a plan to harden the city’s electric grid. Also, long-time resident Tom Ferguson, former head of Summit’s cable television committee and Summit Business Administrator Chris Cotter have submitted a plan to the mayor that would enable burying of wire outward from Springfield Avenue to the post office, YMCA, library connection, firehouse, Lawton C. Johnson Middle School and the first aid squad.
A second loop, according to Dickson, would encompass Deforest Avenue, since that street is scheduled for reengineering and repaving.
Despite the fact that the city would have to bear most of the cost of the project, she said this may be cheaper and more dependable than generators.
“This plan does not protect homeowners,” she added, but it does protect critical parts of our infrastructure.”
Citing the city’s AAA bond rating, the mayor praised the council and city administration and the Summit public schools for keeping their combined budget increases last year to less than 1 percent.
She noted, however, that Summit now pays $33 million a year to Union County with that total continuing to rise.
“That is over 25 percent of our property taxes," Dickson said. "Our increase last year was 11 percent with a double-digit increase expected this year as well. Obviously the 2 percent spending cap does not work with the county. This is frustrating since the value provided by these taxes is not apparent and they give us much less financial flexibility and make it much hard to afford new programs. While many of us have attended Union County freeholder meetings we know our voices seemed to have been ignored. In an era when the needs of our citizens are hard enough to meet and real median incomes are much lower than five years ago, we have a county government that builds $10 million golf club houses, approved the construction of a multimillion dollar ice skating rink, and runs a hospital that is losing millions of dollars a year. County government at the very minimum needs to become more accountable, responsive to all of its constituents, transparent and affordable. That step was taken in Massachusetts and Connecticut and those states and more affordable.”
On the positive side, the mayor thanked Portuondo for her service and congratulated Dill and Madden.
She also expressed her gratitude to City Clerk David Hughes, and Rosemary Lucatese and Michelle Caputo of his office for their help during her first year as the city’s chief executive.
Also commended by the mayor were Police Chief Robert Weck and Fire Chief Joseph Houck and their respective teams of superior officers.
Dickson also noted parts of the Summit Firehouse are 100 years old and “reaching the end of their useful life.” She said schematics are being designed for a new firehouse. This may involve reconfiguring that part of Broad Street currently housing the firehouse and “may offer other opportunities like combining it with a parking garage,” she said, with a hope that that facility could be privately funded.
The mayor also said the combined emergency dispatch service with New Providence should be up and running in 12 months and cited the projected completion of a walking trail along the Passaic River and a basin-wide cleanup of the Martin’s Brook watershed.
Dickson also noted that the city’s Two Walnut Street building was sold at auction last year and the Summit Community Center now is hosting youth programs, with 10 to 35 students coming to the center daily.
In addition, she commended Community Programs Director Judith Leblein Josephs for taking over the Senior Connections Bus with an increase in ridership in 2012. She added Josephs and her staff are continuing to explore funding for the service through grants.
The mayor also announced Susan Permahous, who served in the Springfield library system for 15 years will become Summit’s new library director in March, replacing Glenn Devitt, who retired after 25 years of service to the Hilltop City.
Dickson also commended Michelle Stevenson and Tom O’Rourke, who stepped down from the board of education this past year, and recent appointee Elizabeth Anne Burton, who resigned the board because she is moving to Colorado Springs, Colo.
She noted Richard Hanley will replace Burton on the school body on Jan. 16.
In her concluding remarks the mayor said, “What I have learned over the years is that learning to accept each other’s faults and choosing to celebrate each other’s differences is one of the most important keys to creating healthy, growing and lasting relationships. That is my prayer and hope for all—that we will learn to take, the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of our life and lay them at the feet of God.”